Entering the 2016 season Chris Sale was a good bet to capture his first American League Cy Young award. From 2012 to 2015 Sale finished sixth, fifth, third, and fourth in the voting respectively. He has been considered an elite pitcher for years now but has yet to put together that one truly dominant season. Through eight starts in 2016 it's looking like this could be the year.
Currently Sale is 8-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 59.1 innings pitched. He leads the league in wins, innings, complete games, shutouts, and WHIP. The biggest difference for Sale in 2016 compared to past seasons is effectiveness. His eight strikeouts per nine innings would be the lowest of his career, however, he also has the lowest hits per nine and walks per nine rates of his career as well. This could be the result of a smart pitcher realizing he doesn't have to blow everybody away.
Sale's former strikeout tendencies most likely result from his time as a reliever, where strikeouts are the name of the game. What is interesting about his rise to Cy Young favorite is that he was groomed to be a future closer.
The White Sox selected him in the first round of the 2010 draft and he found himself pitching for the big league bullpen later that very season. He was an instant sensation pitching in 21 games with a 1.93 ERA and a ridiculous 12.3 K/9. He remained an effective reliever in 2011 before transitioning to becoming a full time starter in 2012, which is when he began his current streak of four straight top six finishes in the Cy Young voting.
The White Sox have rode Sale's dominant start to a 24-13 record, which is good for first place in the AL Central and second best overall in the American League. The biggest reason for optimism that this is his year is the struggles of other pre-season Cy Young hopefuls. David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Sonny Gray, and Chris Archer have all struggled immensely.Felix Hernandez represents his current competition for the award but through mid-May Chris Sale has been the unquestioned best pitcher in the American League.